“Really?” Hadn’t the models for all the Pre-Raphaelite paintings been pretty much the same—ethereal, long-haired? Dez’s hair contained the requisite red tones but it was unruly, shoulder-length now. And her features were modern-looking: strong nose and chin, clear eyes. Far from ethereal. In fact, she often felt like the subject of an early Picasso, the plate of which sat in a book on her studio shelf: a downtrodden woman slumped over an ironing board.
The characters are talking about Woman Ironing, by Pablo Picasso (1904), painted near the end of his “Blue Period.” You can see it at the Guggenheim in New York.
Writer David Abrams runs a great blog called The Quivering Pen (Zola!). He’s extremely supportive to other writers and back in July, featured Cascade‘s book trailer in his Trailer Park Tuesday column.
He also runs a My First Time series, where he asks writers to talk about their first writing-related anything–first rejection, first acceptance, first success, failure. I’d wanted to do one for a while, but I’d also had so many writing firsts that it was hard to choose.
I could write about my first rejection letter, which was also a handwritten one from the New Yorker, and how at my fiction workshop, we passed it around like a pie we all wanted to bite from. I could write about my first acceptance–from Redbook magazine, back when Dawn Raffel was the editor and they still published serious fiction. There was even a big check involved (a first AND last). First surprise rejection: the time the Missouri Review asked for two rounds of edits, then said, um, sorry, no. First crushing disappointment: The New Yorker editor who left me a voice mail asking me to call, and when I did, heart batting against my chest, had this to say: “I just want you to know I fought for this story.” Then she quit the magazine.
As an editor at Ploughshares, I had many painful firsts. It’s never pleasant to reject someone’s effort, and particularly hard to reject an almost-right story, or a famous person, or an editor that published you. The best parts of that job were always discovering a wonderful surprise by a new writer, and then seeing that story end up in BASS or Pushcart.
So many firsts. How to choose? Well, it turned out to be easy, in the end. I received my first copy of Cascade from Viking, solid and real. A book with an ISBN number, a book that is catalogued at the Library of Congress. I experienced my first, joyous, book event and that my friends, is My First Time.
My fictional town of Cascade, in my novel of the same name, faces drowning. What’s not fiction is that flooded towns happened everywhere, all over this country—Florida, California, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas. And they happened all over the world. There’s a lake in Italy, Lago di Vagli, that is actually a hydroelectric dam. In the forties, water authorities flooded a stone village, and every ten years, when the lake is emptied for maintenance, the village emerges from the water like a ghost.
I was honored when Julianne Douglas asked to review Cascade for her beautiful book blog, Writing the Renaissance, and then when she asked me to write a brief guest post.
So much fascinating research went into the writing of Cascade that I had a hard time choosing a topic, but finally decided on “Why the 1930s?”
What really stands out for me about the 1930s and now, aside from all this “magic” we’ve learned to live with as if it is our birthright: not much else is really all that different.
Here are my thoughts on “Why the 1930s:” link
Wow, so it’s publication day. WOW! Today I do an interview for Boston Public Radio, WBUR Radio Boston with Anthony Brooks, then I’m going to go do my volunteering at the Brigham so I don’t have to obsess about me, me, me.
I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive: everyone who pre-ordered the book, who will come to events, who will spread the word, and who will write nice Amazon and Goodreads reviews before the cranky, mean, crackpots do.
I feel so fortunate and grateful today. Writing a book is lonely and an act of faith, and the response I’ve had from so many of you has made me extremely happy to be a creative human being alive on this lovely and magical earth we all inhabit.
And for anyone who is doing that uncertain thing—writing a novel with no real knowledge that anyone will ever read it—let me tell you: there is NOTHING BETTER than hearing this song while you are in New York meeting your publisher. So keep at it. xxx
I was the kind of dork that, in the old days, kept a running list of stuff I needed to look up. I’d go to the library about once a week and dig for that New Yorker article I remembered reading one summer. I’d check addresses in the extensive collection of telephone books, and figure out when people were born. I’d look up how to tie a bowtie, see who wrote that song I liked, find out when copyright laws were invented, browse the history of Indian pudding. Really.
I still love libraries but I also love being able to look up anything whenever I want. Just thinking about all the magic that is now, literally, in the palm of my hand makes me also think about how much surrealistic fun it’s been to publish a book in the internet age.
Creating a web presence for my novel was a project I tackled with a great deal of glee. How nice to pull myself out of my own mind, away from words, and turn to images and graphic design. It was a kind of dream to collaborate with my brilliant web designer, Will Amato, and create a site that exactly fit both me and my book. The good times continued when my brother, Michael Bavaro, a filmmaker and natural artist who was seriously selling GREAT drawings to Cape Cod tourists at the age of 5, produced my gorgeous book trailer.
And Pinterest! I’m still not sure about Pinterest, but it was a blast to put together a collage of the art that created my web presence. All the visuals that went into the making of the web site and trailer are important to me, and important to my novel. There is my grandfather’s old magnifying glass, and old postcards and books I love. There are gorgeous stills from the trailer shoot. How handy to have a place to showcase all these beautiful images. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to live in a time when magic and reality are kind of the same thing.
See that middle stack there there on my bookshelf? That slim pile of magazines, journals, and anthologies contains the sum total of my various publications over the years. Every time I published a new piece, I added it to the stack with a sense of satisfaction. It was a slow-growing pile, but it was growing, and I gave it good company by shelving many of my favorite books around it.
That bookcase is adjacent to a fireplace, in front of which my laptop and I spent many wintry hours, struggling with the writing of a novel I wasn’t even sure, for a long time, that I wanted to write. See, the thing about writing short stories is this: there’s always hope in the mailbox. Even if you take your time with a story, like I do, you finish it, you send it out, someone accepts it, you look forward to seeing it in print, and you get on to something new. But by the time I realized I was deep into Cascade, deep into writing in a form I was unsure of, I’d published all the stories I’d written, and I knew it was going to be a long time before my stack saw anything new.
I could write a long post that only other writers might want to read, about the angst and joy of writing Cascade, and about the self-doubt that tried to weld itself onto a slender wire of underlying faith, but it will suffice to skip to #TheEnd:
Last week, I got my first printed copy of Cascade from Penguin. The finished jacket is more beautiful than I’d even imagined, with soft raised lettering and inside flaps that are a surprising and pleasing bright green. My initials are stamped into the front of the hardcover binding: MOH. Cascade is permanent and real, with a copyright page and a Library of Congress number.
When I get my other copies from Penguin, I will add one to the horizontal stack, but for now, I can’t resist setting this first one apart, shelved like any book, upright and ready to be read.
Coming up to my August book launch, my excitement is starting to give way to nerves. It’s funny how a year ago, when Viking bought my novel, I was thrilled. I was sincerely just happy to know that it would be bound, that it would have an ISBN number, that the Library of Congress would mark its existence.
But now, of course, I want people to read it. And to read it, they must buy it, and find it. But the reality of bookselling is that there are fewer real stores, fewer shelves, fewer chances of a new novel finding its way in front of the eyes of people who might want to read it.
I’ve told myself I’m up for the task of finding a readership. I will maintain an online presence, build an author platform, reach out to book clubs.
But sometimes life gets discouraging, as we all know. Last night I woke at 2am to the sound of my daughter’s coughing. She has CF and it’s been a lifelong up and down health issue, but one we are accustomed to and one we deal with in a positive manner. It’s always a shadow though, especially in the middle of the night, and then once awake, all I could do was consume myself with how many interesting-sounding, good-looking books are out there for sale. I imagined my book sinking into a tangle of late summer overgrowth. Finally I willed myself to stop, be positive, and go back to sleep.
This morning, the first thing I saw online was Teddy Roosevelt’s diary page on the morning of his wife’s death–so simple, so stark:
The light has gone out of my life.
I was instantly filled with gratitude for the universe that had sent what seemed like a sign: Fool, rejoice at what you have! The words that matter most are not the words in my book, not really. Didn’t I just write a post about how that book is out in the world and out of my hands?
The words that matter most are “you have your daughter, your husband, your family, your friends.” My husband and I experienced early loss: his beloved brother at 29, my father at 59, so we are perhaps extra thankful, aware that we are all so transient.
“Yes,” the universe then confirmed, “and now here is Nora Ephron’s eulogy in the New York Times for you to read and tear up at.”
I have always felt a silly but real connection to Nora because we shared a May 19 birthday. After choking up at the grief still so palpable on TR’s diary page, my eyes completely spilled over at Charles McGrath’s pitch-perfect eulogy to the woman who could make you smile and cry at once.
Nora Ephron’s writing was of a kind I admire most—the kind that touches at everything that is human and best in us. This ‘last list’ of hers is a list of ‘words that matter most.’ I hope she had pie at the end.
Nora Ephron: What I Will and Won’t Miss
I received a postcard of sorts from California this past weekend. My friend, YA author Janet Tashjian, sent me this photo of galleys of my novel, Cascade, on display at the American Library Association’s annual conference out in Anaheim. I am new to novel publishing, and had no idea that my book would be out there. It was a thrill to see it looking so real and official, set against the glowing orange and white Penguin Group display.
Seeing it out in the world seemed particularly fitting because during the summer heat of last week, I spent a lot of time clearing out ‘the old’ from my attic office. I worked on Cascade on and off for the better part of a decade, and a lot of fits and starts and drafts sat in piles in my bookcase. With the book almost ready to launch, it seemed time to tidy all that paper up, discard a lot of it, and mentally move on to the next project.
But to sort through the old drafts was a revelation! I’d forgotten so much. It was surprising to see the draft of the short story that I originally thought the novel would be. There were early chapter drafts that took place entirely in the present, rather than the 1930s setting I eventually settled with. The characters had different names, and, I realized, entirely different personalities. Henry and Emilia were not the people Dez and Asa turned out to be.
But most of all, I was reminded of just how long I worked on Cascade, and how for most of that time, I had no idea that it would ever be published. Writing a novel was so uncertain; it was isolating and daunting and an act of faith. It was also wonderful—to drop into a world at will, my fingertips on the keyboard my portal to that world, exploring a time period and issues that fascinated me.
To see Cascade on that table out at the ALA conference was to realize that the book is truly on its own now. Some people will pick it up and want to read it; some will simply set it down and move on. The story will resonate with some readers and for others, not so much.
But to those for whom the book does resonate, how wonderful it is, as a writer, to be able to connect with other people like this. I received small tastes of this connection as a short story writer, and always had to blink, surprised and a bit taken aback when someone contacted me. How gratifying it is to know that yes, our writing is out there and people do receive it.
Ernest Hemingway is ‘current’ again, the way Shakespeare was for awhile. There’s the success of Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife,” and the lovely, forthcoming “Hemingway’s Girl,” by Erika Robuck. The JFK Library has released previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the writer’s softer side. We’re all taking a second look.
I grew up with a mother who considered Hemingway larger than life. I learned to revere him long before I was old enough to read him. When I arrived in Key West a few days ago, I went straight to his house.
There, among the Life magazine covers and photos of hunting trophies and fish-fighting chairs, you can see how powerfully the Hemingway image played out. But there, too, is his kitchen: a still life now, preserved behind a museum rope; there is the bathroom corner sink, with its opposing taps, where he would have washed his face, brushed his teeth, checked himself in the mirror.
I’ve always been a little obsessed, a little bit undone, when I find myself in preserved spaces. As my character, Dez, in Cascade, thinks: We people take up space and then when we’re gone, there is just the space left. And sometimes you can’t comprehend how that can happen.
When the JFK Library released the new letters, the Ernest Hemingway curator, Susan Wrynn, said, “We think of him as a hunter or as machismo image. But in the letters, we see a warmer side.”
But are we really surprised by a softer side? I can’t look at this postcard photo of him, patting that scraggly little cat, without choking up. He was a man who liked cats, a man who killed himself. Painful stuff.